Oklahoma educators and supporters have been at the State Capitol since Monday as local rallies echo their push for additional action by the state to fund schools and salaries.
MIAMI/OKC – It's been one long week as Ottawa County teachers have organized and joined the masses of teachers, students, and administrators, estimated as high as in the thousands, gathering daily at the Oklahoma State Capitol to demand more education and teacher pay raise funding.
Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation granting teachers pay raises of $3,000 to $8,300 per teacher, an average of $6,100 or 15 to 18 percent, after the House and Senate passed House Bill 1010xx on Monday for a tax plan funding a total of $447 million for the teacher pay raises including $50 million for education. The Oklahoma teachers union is asking for $10,000 in teacher pay raises and sustainable state education funding.
After the repeal of the plan's proposed Hotel/Motel Tax estimated to bring $50 million in revenues, Oklahoma teachers remained concerned about the state legislators' commitment to completely fund public education and vowed to walkout and stay out of their classrooms until suitable funding is established by lawmakers to support education.
Oklahoma educators are continuing to rally for pay raises and other things such as facility improvements, equipment, and textbooks they claim in their districts are run down, outdated or in short supply.
“The Senate will take up HB 1019xx and HB 3375 Friday,” MPS Superintendent Jeremy Hogan said Thursday afternoon. “I definitely feel with the approval of both of these measures it would put us close to ending the walkout. However, news from the capitol changes constantly. I plan to have a staff meeting early Saturday afternoon, so we can discuss the plans for next week. I hope to have an update on the status of school for next week on Saturday afternoon.”
Friday, April 6 will be a big day in the standoff between lawmakers and teachers as the Oklahoma House and Senate plan to hold legislative sessions to consider these revenue-generating bills.
Oklahoma House Bill 1019xx
Oklahoma House Bill 1019xx, an online sales tax bill, would require third-party retailers with sales of $10,000 or more on Amazon or other internet outlets, to collect sales tax for Oklahoma and comply with requirements by the state tax commission.
House lawmakers voted 92 to 7 in favor of House Bill 1019XX, which now must be approved by the Senate in the next step to becoming law.
If passed the bill is expected to bring in $19.6 million for Fiscal Year 2019 and $20.5 million annually, which would be dedicated to education.
Oklahoma Education Association president Alicia Priest praised passage of 1019XX, she said, "Our win for kids today was only possible because of the energy educators and students have brought to the Capitol this week. But our elected leaders have more work to do for our students."
Oklahoma House Bill 3375
Oklahoma House Bill 3375, or the ball and dice gaming bill, would bring an additional $20 million plus in revenues to add to state education funding. The bill is meant to expand the types of games tribal casinos may offer and allow for dice games and roulette wheels in compacts with Native American Tribes in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma Senate Office of the President Pro Tempore, Senator Mike Schulz, sent out a press release Thursday stating the Senate will meet Friday to consider special session and regular session measures.
“The Senate will meet in special session at 8:30 a.m. Friday to consider HB 1019xx, the marketplace fairness act or so-called “Amazon bill,” as well as HB 1012xx, a bill that repeals the “hotel/motel” tax that was originally included the $530 million revenue package (HB 1010xx) passed by the Legislature last week that completely funds the largest teacher pay raise in state history.
The Amazon bill is estimated to generate approximately $20 million and when added to growth revenue in the state budget more than makes up for the hotel/motel tax,” according to the press release.
The Senate also will meet in regular session Friday morning to consider HB 3375, the so-called “ball and dice” bill.
Whether these bills if passed will be enough to stop the teacher strike remains to be determined.
Miami, Commerce, Fairland, Quapaw and Wyandotte Public Schools Districts closed school through Friday in support of teachers. Afton and Welch Public School Districts closed down Monday but returned to class on Tuesday.
Afton Superintendent Randy Gardner said the district will be sending and supporting lobbyists in the effort.
Armed with homemade signs teachers, support staff, administrators, board members, students, parents and community members lined the streets daily across Ottawa County in a show of support.
“DEDICATION! That’s the best word I can use to describe our educators and other stakeholders who have taken up the charge to fight for public education! Rallying both at the State Capitol and locally they’re taking a stand!, “Hogan posted Thursday morning on Facebook. “Many have asked, what are they standing for? They got a raise and additional funding for textbooks, resources, etc. Well let me tell you, I do not know an educator that is not appreciative of the pay increase. They understand that this was the largest tax increase in Oklahoma history and for the first time since 1992 a bi-partisan measure was agreed to that required the 75% supermajority of both Chambers. So, yes educators are extremely grateful for the raise and increased funding!”
On Wednesday Gov. Fallin called for teachers to return to classrooms, and in an interview, Tuesday, compared striking teachers to "a teenage kid that wants a better car."
Hogan posted in part on Facebook, “We (educators) understand there’s at least a $74.4M (hotel/motel + balk & dice) shortfall to having this fully funded. Then after researching the bill, many legislators including our Rep. (Ben Loring) tell us the cigarette tax ($144.5M) will go to healthcare after year one (makes sense) and some of the Gas & Diesel taxes will go to roads (also, makes sense). So, the hole in year 2 and beyond (according to some legislators) is massive.”
He went on to write, “Now in full disclosure, Republican Leadership assures us that all this is fully funded. Both chambers approved the education budget and the Governor has signed it. Teachers & support staff will get their raise, we have textbook monies, and monies to replace FY 2018 cuts ($52K for MPS). However, there has been no explanation given of how can all this be fully funded if all revenue measures were not passed! That’s all educators want! Thank you for passing a historic measure, but please ensure it’s fully funded. Fill the holes for next year (year #1) = $75M and how will we fill the holes for year #2 and beyond (cigarette tax & gas/diesel). Yes, we’ve asked but we get “it’s funded, trust us!” Well, as the last 12 years have proven, we can not trust you (not all, but especially leadership)!”
If the measures passed are not fully funded district cuts will occur, according to Hogan, and result in increased class sizes, elimination of positions, programs and other cores services.
“So, until funding shortfalls are addressed and questions are answered, teachers/educators will more than likely continue to walk. As a parent and fellow educator, I will continue to stand by their side! These brave and courageous individuals deserve our support and most importantly our appreciation! Because, ultimately and just like always, THEY ARE DOING THIS FOR THEIR STUDENTS!!!,” Hogan posted.
After spending most of the week at the State Capitol, Miami teacher Kaci Hoffer said emotions have run from high to low.
“We're angry, we're frustrated, we're exhausted. We're tired of fighting, but it's what we have to keep doing,“ she said. “The thing is we got the raise, but we're a $150 million in the hole. If they don't fund it, that's going to come back on the districts, and that's a lot of money.”
Hoffer said legislators made a great bi-partisan start toward funding education but much more is needed in her opinion. The Miami School Board and Superintendent Hogan have been “absolutely supportive” of teachers, according to Hoffer, and many support staff also joined the walkout.
Support staff received a $1,250 raise in the HB 1010xx tax plan.
Hoffer said she never encountered any oppositional picketing at the Capitol during the week.
“I did not see a single sign that was negative towards teachers,” Hoffer said.
Local teachers said the atmosphere at the State Capitol is overwhelmingly inspiring.
“It's so powerful because together we have a voice and we're representing all these children too, so it's not just our voice, we're representing our kids too,” Hoffer said. “It's not about the raise, it's about the kids.”
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.